Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is the UK’s third most common phobia, according to the Guardian. In fact, 56 percent of respondents said they were afraid of public speaking. The only things scarier to Britons in the fear index are snakes and heights. Now these two are rational fears; one is essentially a muscle in a leather sock that can swallow you whole and the other is…well…really high up.
What isn’t a rational fear, is public speaking, the most common form of which is the dreaded workplace presentation. This isn’t something people can avoid either, presentation skills are vital to a successful career. It can make or break business deals and pitches. It’s even critical to communicating with colleagues. Without effective communication, no-one will see the merits of any new ideas or procedures you put forward.
In short, to find career success you need to make yourself heard.
Luckily, strong communication is a craft. Anyone can learn the art of effective communication. Whether it’s an official presentation or informally convincing colleagues, communication is a skill – you just have to practice.
Here’s our guide for the vocally challenged – the dos and don’ts of effective communication.
The dos and don’ts of effective communication
DO know the audience, and make sure they know you
No matter if you are talking to a single person or a whole room, know your audience. Do your research, know what they want, what they need and how you can communicate your point of view to them. If you frame your argument in a way that is relevant to them, then they will be more open to what you are saying.
Also, remember, even if you know your audience they may not know you. Introduce yourself. Not only will it establish your credentials but it will help settle nerves. Sometimes the worst part about a presentation or pitch is starting. Ease yourself in with an easy subject – you!
DO practice. Then practice again, and again, then once more for good measure
This is possibly one of the most important steps to improving communication and presentation skills. Preparation means that once you start, muscle memory will kick in. Rehearse what you want to say so many times that the words come out automatically.
Although, be wary of over-preparing. With any communication, you should know your points but you shouldn’t become obsessed with preparation, as this can cause unneeded stress. If you’re up all night worrying about when you should breathe within a sentence, you’ve gone too far.
A focus on key points, rather than a set script, allows for a more natural delivery when communicating. It also means you won’t be relying on your notes. Learn what you want to say, not exactly how you’ll say it.
DO keep it relevant and concise
‘It is absolutely critical to be as direct, to the point and concise as possible.’ says Karen Friedman, head of Karen Friedman Enterprises, a communication coaching firm in Philadelphia. ‘Think about what the single most important point is that you need to make, the central idea.’
When trying to get your point across, an excess of information is not going to help. In professional environments time has a quantifiable cost. Don’t waste your audience’s and yours by skirting around a point or issue. If they need more information they will ask, so make sure they have that opportunity.
SNP Leadership Communication has a powerful method for effective communication. First, draw out a triangle on a piece of paper. Then think about the three key points of your presentation. Write, in a single sentence, your three points at each tip of the triangle. Using these points as a guide, your presentation should have the following layout:
- State what your presentation is about
- Go through your three points
- Repeat your three points as a summary conclusion
If you do this, not only do you know what you need to say but you will deliver your points in a clear, concise manner.
DON’T be afraid to stop and listen
When you’re nervous about speaking, you’ll want to get it done as quickly as possible. But an important part of communication is listening to what the other person/your audience has to say. After your initial presentation or pitch, they may have questions.
At this point, it is vital that you don’t panic. If you prepared around some key points you should be able to answer any question that might arise. But don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know the answer to that right now but I’d be happy to find it out for you and email it over tomorrow.’ This lets you off the hook in the moment and gives you extra time to find the best answer.
Another tactic for ensuring you answer any question correctly is to clarify with the person asking. You can say ‘If I understand you correctly you’re asking ‘X’? Is that right?’ Not only do you show comprehension and consideration to your audience, but it gives you more time to perfect your answer.
DO be aware of body language
First impressions count. No matter how you feel inside your countenance and body language can betray you. Make sure you stand up straight, smile and make eye contact to make the best impression on your audience.
Other ways of improving your body language are as simple as:
- Preparing with a power pose. This is a weird one but power posing like Superman can build your confidence. Do it for two minutes before any nerve-wracking situation to give yourself a boost.
- Getting energised. No matter how energetic and enthusiastic you think you look, your audience isn’t seeing it. Try ramping up your energy in front of your audience. It won’t look as contrived as it may feel.
- Playing supermodel. Standing face-to-face can be confrontational. Appear more relaxed by angling yourself against the audience slightly, like a model
- Not gesturing above your shoulders. It just looks weird.
- Talking with your hands. The correct hand gestures can give real weight and impact to your words. Practice in front of a mirror to find out what works, then do it in professional situations. You’ll be more confident, clear and forthright in your speaking style.
- Thinking before you speak. It can be off-putting to an audience member if you are staring at them and making eye contact while considering your answer to their question. If you need a moment to think, look away before you answer, look thoughtful, then turn back to answer. Your response will now have more impact as your eyes support it.
DON’T fake it; be human
No matter who you speak to in a professional context you should always be yourself. We’re social animals; people will soon find out if you are putting up a front or faking it when you’re talking to them. This can only hurt your argument or presentation as you’ll seem less than genuine. Even if you’re making good points, people may not listen. If you fake it, chances are you won’t make it.
From fearsome phobia to fantastic fun
Communication is nothing to be afraid of. This may be easy to say, but with practice anyone can improve their communication and presentation skills. If you prepare, work on your body language and interact honestly with people, they will respond positively to you.
So, take the plunge, start practising effective communication today because – fun fact – the more you do it, the easier it becomes.